Tackling race inequality
The death of George Floyd has sparked protests across the world highlighting the scale of racial inequality as well as calls for change.
I am truly saddened to be writing in the aftermath of this event and realise that, as a result of the privilege I experience as a white person, I can never fully understand the pain, fear, and anger that our minority ethnic communities are experiencing. But I do stand in solidarity with them to say, loudly and clearly, that Black Lives Matter and I call myself a race ally who has a duty to tackle racism, prejudice and discrimination.
No country is free from racism and the terrible harm it causes. We need only look at our street names, our statues, and our buildings across Scotland to see its historical roots. As Minister for Equalities, I am determined to ensure that we do all we can to understand, dismantle and challenge racism.
Last week in the Scottish Parliament, MSPs from all parties showed solidarity with the worldwide anti-racism movement and backed support for the development of a museum looking at Scotland’s ties to slavery, empire and colonialism.
This is a major step in recognising Scotland’s role in these painful parts of history, and a way of ensuring we can learn from the mistakes and atrocities of the past and be certain that they will never be repeated. And we will continue to consider how that past is represented in our street names and monuments in a way that is grounded in the voices of those it affects.
But the deep seated inequalities minority ethnic communities experience extend beyond the history of slavery and empire. And we’ve seen those inequalities played out recently in a very real life or death situation – the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
We are deeply concerned by recent reports, suggesting people from ethnic minorities have been disproportionately affected by Covid-19. Although the current analysis in Scotland appears to show that this is not the case, I understand that many people will be anxious about protecting themselves and their families. I want to reassure them that we are taking this issue extremely seriously. We are working with academic experts and grassroots organisations and communities to better understand the situation and ensure we take the appropriate action. Our new Expert Reference Group, who met for the first time last week, will help us to mitigate any disproportionate effects by challenging, informing and shaping our future policies.
We have invested over £2.6 million in the last year to help us to address inequalities faced by minority communities across all areas of our society. And we are committed to ensuring that addressing racial inequality is at the heart of our recovery and renewal work as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through our equality fund, we’re taking action to make our workplaces fairer and more diverse. But evidence shows that the employment rate of the minority ethnic population in Scotland is still consistently lower than the white population, and there is also a significant pay gap.
That’s why our focus will be building on the progress we have made to eradicate inequalities in employment. We will target key public and private sector employers to introduce further measures to diversify their workforces.
In education, we’ve helped schools improve how they record and respond to racial bullying. In health, we’ve funded projects to improve access to the three cancer screening programmes for minority ethnic groups.
Last week in parliament the Education Secretary committed to doing more to ensure that social inequality, racism and black history are covered in the curriculum. Working with Education Scotland, we will continue to promote resources to help teachers to appropriately deliver black history to pupils.
And in justice, we are continuing to work with Police Scotland and others to tackle hate crime, including prejudice motivated by racial and religious hatred. Last month, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice announced that he will be holding a statutory Public Inquiry into the circumstances surrounding the death of Sheku Bayoh.
Our vision is for Scotland to be a place where people are healthier, happier and treated with respect, and where opportunities, wealth and power are spread more equally.
I’m aware of the influx of hundreds of letters from people across Scotland showing their support for anti-racism. We are listening, so please make your voice heard.
However we are still in the midst of a pandemic so in the interests of public health and preventing the spread of COVID-19, I would discourage even peaceful mass gatherings and instead urge you to find other ways to show your solidarity. Whether that be through donating to a cause, getting involved with a charity or participating in virtual protests and petitions.
It is not enough not to be racist – we must be anti-racist, not only by condemning hate and injustice, but by working together to advance equality and eliminate racial discrimination.